Cat Fun

How to Maximize a Small Living Space for Cats

Indoor-only cats can become bored with their surroundings if those surroundings aren’t enriched in some way. Cats are naturally curious and they thrive on novelty as long as it’s not too overwhelming. So what do you do if your living space is especially small?

Molly H. writes:

Otis, Isis, and I are in a tiny studio (like, really tiny). They’re both indoor cats. Do you have any suggestions for keeping a cat entertained in the confines of a small apartment?

Molly, cats are highly adaptable. Most will make do with the area they have available. But to thrive, they might need a helping hand. The first thing to do is to evaluate the vertical space in your apartment. Can the cats get up to high places? We humans tend to think in two-dimensional space, or square footage, but most cats love to get up high and survey their territory. It makes them feel more secure.

 
 

You can maximize vertical space by adding at least one tall cat tree with multiple lounging levels. This doesn’t have to take up a ton of square footage. This floor-to-ceiling cat tree takes up very little real estate while giving maximum vertical space. It isn’t the most durable cat tree out there. In fact, it can be a little wobbly, but it has one of the smallest footprints available and its also inexpensive. We’ve had several of these over the years and our only issue was with the coverings getting shredded by one of our heavy scratchers.

 
 

If you can afford the space (and the price) this cat tree is recommended. It’s a lot more durable, but it also takes up more space.

Once you have a cat tree, position it so that the cats can use it as a ladder to other high spaces like the tops of bookcases or other furniture.

Other environmental enrichment possibilities include making windows available to the cats at all times. Window space can become a prime resource in a small place so you want to make sure there are lounging areas by all the windows and that the cats have access to them 24/7. If you feel exposed having window coverings open all the time, just put up a baffle of some sort that the cats can go behind. This can be as simple as propping one end of the blinds open so the cats can get to the window but no one can see inside.

Another suggestion is boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. not all at once, but whenever you have a box or a paper bag from a purchase, share those with the cats and let them explore the new sights and smells in those items. Keep them around a few days and then recycle them and exchange them for newer ones. A cat’s world is largely made up of scents and every new item will tell them a story of sorts. When you come home, don’t forget to let them smell your hands and learn about where you’ve been!

 
 

If your cats will tolerate a harness, going outdoors on a leash may be helpful. It really depends on where you live. If there’s lots of traffic noise outside, many indoor cats will be too frightened to enjoy the experience, but it’s worth a try if you’re in a quiet neighborhood. Just take it slowly, allowing the cats to smell the harness and then to wear it for brief periods inside your home. If they get comfortable with that, you can try taking them out on a leash one at a time. Just be aware that this may expose them to parasites, so you’ll need to have a good flea treatment plan in place first, if you don’t already.

 
 
 
 

Finally, every cat needs premium playtime every single day. With two cats, it’s easier because they will probably play with one another, but they still need time with you. Schedule a couple of regular play times every day during which you use interactive toys. Wand toys are great and we’ve had good luck with all of the Yeowww catnip toys.

We hope this helps, Molly. All our best to you and Otis and Isis!

Help, My Cat is Bored!

Cats like routine, but even they can get bored with the same old thing every day, just like us. Suzie E. writes:

Sally is 14 years old and I think she is regularly bored. Not all the time, but once every couple of days she meows for attention and I try to get her to be a bit active. She is not interested in chasing things or batting at things. We live in a tiny NYC apartment, of which she knows every inch. We sleep in a loft 8 feet off the ground, so she gets that bit of exercise of climbing up and down the ladder at least once a day. She has many nests/places of her own.

She is not overweight although she is a bit heavier than she was most of her life. My vet is more concerned that she not lose weight rather than gain it.

I’ve quit buying her toys. I did get her a thingee into which I put treats she then has to fish out of it, and I toss treats for her to chase, only she lately just saunters after them. I put them around on the furniture for her to climb, but that’s about all she pays attention to.

I had another cat, Spike, till two years ago and he was much more active and pounced on her & all, but with him gone she’s on her own. Of course I have thought of getting another cat to keep Sally company.

I really feel I’ve tried everything, so don’t feel bad if there’s nothing more to suggest! At least I’ll know I did everything I could. Thanks so much for your time and consideration!

Suzie, it really can be a challenge to try and keep an older cat active and entertained. The key is enrichment. It helps if you can find creative ways to mix up Sally's environment and give her new areas to explore. This can be easier, and cheaper, than it sounds. A new box with holes cut in the side or a paper bag from the market can help. It's not only the new "place" - it's also the new smells that come along with it. Even making a play fort from a blanket over a couple of chairs can change things up enough to make them interesting for Sally.

When you come home, be sure to let Sally smell your hands if she's at all interested. The scents left on your hands from your day tell a story and most cats very much enjoy the new scents from the outside world. Think about ways that you can share the smells you bring into the apartment with Sally.

 
 

We also leave soft music on all day for our cats. We had one who was over-grooming and that stopped when we started playing music. Our cats are very fond of the music of Bradley Joseph. His works include soft instrumental music along with some voices and even bird sounds. We play them on our Amazon Echo because the tracks are free with our Prime membership. We put them on loop when we leave and turn them off when we return.

 
 

We've also had great luck adding plants and bird feeders outside a prominent window where our cats like to sun themselves. Potted plants that attract bees and bird feeders that attract birds and squirrels can be very stimulating for cats.

 
 

None of this addresses activity, of course, at least not directly. When cats are more stimulated by their environment, we've found that they become more interested in playing. The way you play can affect their interest as well. The toy should behave like prey and usually it's better if the toy is moving away from the cat, not toward them. Many cats respond well to the "Da Bird" wand toy but some don't. Each cat has a bit of pre-programmed preference for a particular kind of prey. If Sally doesn't have the "I eat birds" gene, she won't be interested in feathers, but she might like stuffed toys. It takes some trial and error to determine.

 
 

If Sally will accept a harness, you could also take her outside of the apartment for brief exploratory sessions. cats enjoy exploring and, even though she will probably go about it very slowly, she would probably enjoy it.

Of course, many cats simply slow down as they get older. At 14, Sally certainly has that prerogative, but her boredom can surely be an issue. 

As to bringing a new cat friend in for Sally, it usually doesn't work well for cats above the age of four. We won't say it can't work because it can, but it's risky. Older cats rarely take to young, energetic upstarts.

We hope these suggestions help. It certainly can be a challenge. I'd love to hear back from you if you find something that works for Sally.

The Cat's Pajamas

Lisa D writes in and asks,

I know this isn’t exactly a cat question, but I was wondering why a cat’s pajamas are supposed to be something great. Is there even such a thing as cat pajamas?

It's a silly question, but one we have to admit that we didn't have an immediate answer for.  After checking around, we learned that the phrase originated by Tad Dorgan in the 1920s.  During that time it was considered hip and cool to use jazzy phrases.  Dorgan created a number of original phrases and used them in the comic strips he created for publications like the New York Journal.

If something was declared to be "the cat's pajamas", it was being declared to be the best of the best.  It's unclear whether the cat's pajamas are better or worse than the bee's knees, but we do know that no cat wants or needs to wear pajamas.